Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich

B & N link
The full title is "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America." It should be required reading in college. Or high school. Ehrenreich, a journalist, describes in three sections her experiences as a waitress, as a maid, and a retail clerk, plus other assorted jobs along the way as she attempts to live within her earnings. This is seriously a case of walking a mile in someone else's shoes....

Even though the book is getting dated (2001), it's a snapshot of what it's like to work in a minimum wage job and try to survive. It was an eye-opener to me to realize one of the huge problems is rent. Some of the people she meets are caught living in low-end weekly rate motel rooms because they can't set aside enough to be able to pay a first month's deposit on an apartment that would be cheaper in the long run. Others solve the problem by sharing single-sized living space with other people. Some live out of their cars.

These are not people who are poor because they are unemployed. Many have a job, one and a half or even two full-time jobs. Working poverty, as Ehrenreich shows in her own experience and through the people she meets and informally interviews, is not just a case of belt-tightening, but life in a state of crisis. If you care at all about issues of social justice, you need to read this book or one like it.